No relief from skid in sight

MAPLE LEAFS 5, LIGHTNING 1: A backup goaltender stymies Tampa Bay, which falls to 1-5 since the Olympic break.

Published March 12, 2006

TORONTO - Goaltending, again, cost the Lightning a game.

Not its own goaltending. In fact, the Lightning's goaltending wasn't too bad for much of the night. The other team's goalie, however, was better than good. He was nearly perfect.

Just as the Lightning's total game seemed to be getting back on track, it had the dumb luck of running into a red-hot goalie. Toronto backup Mikael Tellqvist turned away just about everything the Lightning threw at him and led the Leafs to a 5-1 victory Saturday night in front of 19,431 at the Air Canada Centre.

The score might not show it, but the free-falling Lightning played its best game since the end of the Olympic break. But it still lost for the fifth time in six tries since the break and could not pad its slim lead in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"It's a disaster right now," goalie Sean Burke said. "It's the worst stretch I've ever seen. Nothing seems to be going right."

The Canadiens beat the Rangers 1-0 and leap-frogged the Lightning for seventh place in the East, leaving Tampa Bay in the eighth and last playoff spot, four points ahead of idle Atlanta. The Canadiens and Lightning meet Monday night in Montreal as the Lightning tries to salvage the last two games of a season-long five-game road trip that concludes Tuesday against powerhouse Ottawa.

And, watch out, the 10th-place Leafs crept to within six of the Lightning. The Lightning could have put a nail in the Leafs coffin with a victory and probably deserved a better result in a game shown nationally on Hockey Night in Canada. The Lightning outshot the Leafs, but was stymied by the little-used Tellqvist, who entered with a 6-6-2 record.

The Leafs scored two, five-on-three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal in a game that was 2-1 midway through the third period.

"You can't put yourself in the hole with bad penalties," Lightning center Tim Taylor said. "We did that tonight. It's frustrating."

"Very frustrating," forward Martin St. Louis said.

While Tellqvist deserves most of the credit for Toronto's victory, the Lightning's power play does merit some of the blame for the loss. It failed to score on seven attempts and allowed a goal. Matt Stajan's shorthanded goal late in the second gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead, a lead that was cut in half by Ruslan Fedotenko's career-high 20th goal at 6:23 of the third.

Then the bottom fell out as Burke allowed a couple of goals he might have liked to have back.

"It just seems like no breaks are going our way," Taylor said. "We played a good game. It's hard to explain. We're just not getting the breaks. If we keep playing hard like this, the breaks will start coming our way and then they're going to keep going our way."

Right now, however, the Lightning is waiting for something ... anything to go its way. And time is running out on the season.

"Right now we just need to find a way to regain our composure," Lightning coach John Tortorella said, "and find a way to start getting points."